Super Salad with Edible Blooms

This ‘kitchen sink’ salad has enjoyed rave reviews every time I serve it.

Definite crowd pleaser.

Serves 8

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 head of leaf lettuce (use your favorite)
  • 6 sprigs of young asparagus
  • 200 grams of fresh mushrooms (use your favorite, these are the button variety, but small portabellos would be wonderful)
  • 1 large sweet pepper (red or yellow)

Blossoms

  • 2 hollyhock
  • 6-8 fuchsia (this one uses two each of red-and-white, salmon, fuchsia, and pink/purple)
  • 6-8 pansies
  • 10-12 -antirrhinums (snapdragons) of various colors
  • 2  pumpkin
  • 1 -rose
  • 2 dahlias
  • 4-daisies
  • 5-8  rocoto
  • 5-8 pepino dulce
  • 10-12 purple salvia, 5 mauve salvia. 5 red salvia
  • 1 large single hibiscus
  • 1 large double hibiscus

If you are harvesting your own blossoms, pick them in the morning when their moisture content is highest, and store until ready to use in a plastic tub in the fridge. If you are buying blooms, make sure they come from a known grower or are certified organic by a reputable certification agency.

Wash the mushrooms and cook on high heat with generous butter and whole peeled garlic until golden brown.

Remove mushrooms from pan, draining butter and leaving garlic for those who want to nibble on them. Let cool at room temp.

Wash and slice pepper into long thin strips, leaving seeds etc for the compost.

Steam asparagus until bright green (2-3 minutes on high heat) with a pinch of salt. remove from heat, drain and set aside in fridge to cool.

Prepare blossoms carefully, removing antlers, stamen, and any green bits. For the rose petals, remove hard white bit at the base of each petal (bitter); note that blooms should be newly opened when picked. Note: prepping the blossoms is labor-intensive so allow plenty of prep time before your planned meal.

Leave daisies whole (they are garnishes) and after removing stamen from fuchsias, leave one of each color whole for presentation. Hollyhocks and dahlias need to be clean of the yellow center. Remove the petals carefully so each is whole. Pansies can be used as garnishes, but need to be completely disassembled if they are part of the salad (you don’t want to serve the green bit that fuses their dainty petals). Rocoto and pepino dulce can be readies by pinching off their green attachment, leaving the blossom intact. Salvias, use only the colored bits, which come off easily from the spire. Remove pumpkin and gladiolus petals gently so they are whole. (If you tear a blossom accidentally, toss it in the salad anyway.)

Wash lettuce and let soak in cold water before spinning (or otherwise drying).

Dry flower blossoms gently by hand (do not spin – petals are delicate) and combine lettuce, pepper slivers, and blossoms, tossing gently.

Arrange daisies and fuchsias attractively around the serving dish (flat is better than a bowl)

Arrange mushrooms and asparagus around edges.

Dressing

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • pinch of sea salt
  • juice of one limonia (small Peruvian lime; can substitute two tsp of fresh lemon or large lime)
  • 2 tbsp fresh cream
  • 1 heaping tsp of honey (runny honey is better, but any honey will do)
  • dash of freshly ground black pepper
  • dash of balsamic vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake until well blended. Taste and adjust salt or lemon flavor to taste. Present salad to guests for “oohs” and “ahs,” then dress, toss, and serve.

Provecho!

Anticipated Challenges

While I always try to ‘plan for the worst and hope for the best,’ I expect there are innumerable trials and tribulations on the horizon that I haven’t anticipated. These are a few that leap to mind.

Pests and staying organic

Various flowers suffer from pests that limit flower production. For example hibiscus is often plagued by a type of aphid, which are relatively easy to remove with a simple hose and some added finger pressure at the nozzle – aye, there’s the rub. Many of the growers will not have access to running water. Some may have to lug it in from the canals in buckets. Another example is climbing roses, which are susceptible to oidio (powdery mildew), as are artichokes. Treatment is aggressive pruning or a sulfuric chemical, sold here under the name of topaz. Roses treated with topaz should not be eaten and any flower sprayed with a pesticide should not touch human lips. Even certified organic growers will be tempted to cheat if pruning means a loss of income they were counting on. A ‘no tolerance’ policy is likely the only solution, whereby a grower would instantly lose her certification if caught spraying. As the technical team evolves. we will develop a list of pests and diseases and their organic solutions as well as a low-cost testing mechanism.

Chemical Copycats

While the idea of eating flowers is thousands of years old and is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in modern culinary practice and fine dining establishments all over North America and Europe, it would be easy for a trend to backfire in the Sacred Valley if small restaurants start purchasing blossoms from the market and feeding them to their guests, without knowing their origins. It’s a pretty sure bet that blooms sold as cut flowers have been sprayed with something and likely used chemical fertilizers to promote their growth as well. Restaurants participating in this project should also assist with a broad information campaign to help their clients ensure they are consuming blooms that are certified through the project (precise mechanism to be devised). Having the infrastructure in place before broad launch will help prevent copycats who use pesticides from jumping on the bandwagon, without thought to human health. The last thing this project needs is bad publicity from tourists who become ill by eating pesticide-tainted blooms.

Collection and Distribution

Most edible flowers should be picked the day they will be served, at the peak of their blossom, no later. Since the growers will be widespread, it will be difficult to include certain dishes on permanent menus, although they could be incorporated into the daily specials. Also, many uses, such as freezing them and serving in cocktails, do not require a particular flower. Still, they are a delicate commodity and cannot be carried in a manta many kilometers down the mountain trail. In addition, any collection system needs to be environmentally appropriate. Again, these issues will be tackled once the technical team is in place.

That’s a start. This section will expand as we learn.

Who we’re talking to

So far, early in the concept stage, we have opened positive discussions with:

ProWorld volunteers, which has its roots in Peru as ProPeru

– Founder and President

ProWorld Foundation with headquarters in Cusco

– Director

Tambo del Inca Luxury Hotel, Urubamba, a Luxury Collection Resort Spa of the Starwood Hotels chain.

– Food and Beverage Manager

– Head Chef

3 Keros Restaurant – Urubamba, rated #1 dining establishment in Urubamba by TripAdvisor

– Owner and Head Chef

Andean Railway Corp. – The Machu Picchu Train

– Chairman of the Executive Committee

Women-owned viveros

In January 2012 we will begin communicating with the rest of the Valley’s 5-star hotels and high end restaurants, as well as appropriate community outreach personnel, Peruvian government agencies, donor agencies and their contractors.

Other edible flowers in the Sacred Valley

All but marked images are original, taken in my Urubamba chakra (August-December 2011). You are welcome to use any images provided you credit the photographer – Penelope Poole and link to Edible Flowers of Peru

More blossoms in the chakra appear to be edible, but require confirmation. I’ve tasted them personally –on the basis that fruit, vegetables, and herbs usually bear edible flowers– and experienced no ill effects.

Tumbo (Passiflora)This lovely flower’s petals are edible, pretty and tasty in salads. As with all edibles, the antlers must be removed (or if used as a garnish, must be served to savvy diners who will remove them on the plate.)The fruit of the tumbo, a type of passionfruit, commonly called ‘banana passionfruit” is fleshy and sweet and the seeds are eaten along with the pulp. It is a favorite of the Andean people here in the Sacred Valley, where it originated, and it can still be found in the wild in highland valleys in Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia and here in Peru.  
Pepino dulce (Solanum muricatum)This sweet melon is also native to this region. Its flowers are small, pretty and sweet and can be sprinkled on ice cream, or other creamy desserts or used to garnish pastries.  
Rocoto (Capsicum pubescens)These tiny flowers herald egg-shaped HOT peppers that pack a wallop – not for the faint of heart. The flowers are slightly peppery and add an elegant garnish to a salsa or salad. As my two giant rocoto bushes are already laden with peppers, more than we can use, we won’t sacrifice the fruit by using the tasty flowers.  

And several more blossoms grow abundantly in the Valley, although I’ve had trouble sourcing seedlings, which is odd, especially for nasturtium, because it is native to the part of Peru and still grows in the wild.

(Marked images below are borrowed, with thanks, from sites with no copyright, until I can replace them)

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)This peppery tasting flower is a favorite edible as it adds both color and zest to dishes, typically salads. They are native to Peru, but have not been domesticated since being spread far and wide in Europe by the returning Conquistadores in the 16th century and eventually throughout the world. They grow wild in soil where crops do not flourish and encouraging their growth is a sound strategy for erosion control.  pic not mine – to be swapped.
Garlic (Allium sativum)Garlic is prolific in the Valley and the cloves are as much a staple as salt (from the unusual salineras 20 minutes away in Maras). The history of garlic is complicated, although scholars agree it is thousands of years old. It’s possible the variety grown in Peru could have been crossed with a native species from Chile with cloves brought from Spain.  pic not mine.
Dill Weed (Anethum graveolens)Dill grows as easily as its lookalike, fennel, but is not well-known to the Quechua people, which is not surprising as it comes from the Mediterranean and southern Russia. Yet demand for local dill will surely increase with its propagation, as the fine international hotels and restaurants adjust their menus.  pic not mine
Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)Closely related to the nasturtium, this beautiful flowering plant is actually a major food source for the Andes, where it originates. Some 9 million people rely on the tubers, which have a peppery, raddish-like bite and are generally cooked (baked, boiled, or fried). The flowers are similar in peppery zest to nasturtiums, but not well known in the rest of the world as they require high altitudes and other Andean climate conditions.

 

 pic not mine
Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum indicum)These festive blooms probably came to Peru from Europe and are popular additions to Peruvian gardens as ornamentals. Modern chefs suggest blanching the petals, which are described as ‘tangy or slightly bitter’ in flavor before sprinkling in salads. Some popular myth has labelled them as ‘poisonous’ but I’ve found no empirical evidence supporting that.  

Existing Edible Blooms in my Sacred Valley Garden

All images are original photographs, taken in my Urubamba chakra (with the exception of any marked placeholders, which will be swapped as soon as mine bloom). You are welcome to use any of the other images, provided you credit the photographer – Penelope Poole – and link to Edible Flowers of Peru

Apple (Malus domestica)The Spanish brought the apple to South America in the 1500s, where it established well in Argentina. It is not certain when apples began propagating in the Valley, but likely about the same time, along with Christianity, which has its own myths about the hardy fruit of the apple, shared with many other religions. The apple blossoms bloom in the valley in August, which is midwinter in this hemisphere, although the temperatures never drop below freezing in the Valley, with the fruit maturing in December or January. These beautiful blossoms are commonly used to decorate apple pastries or punches.  
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) One of our favorite herbs and although it originated in Asia, it has been cultivated for 5000 years and is a common element in Peruvian herb gardens and dishes. It grows so prolifically that fresh albahaca in the market is available in huge, two-fisted bunches for about 30 cents, often sold complete with flowering heads. As with most herbs, the flowers taste much like the leaves, but add a visual pleasure to their taste and scent.  (Now, end of December of 2011, the basil seeds planted three weeks ago are enjoying the seasonal rains and have begun to flower.)
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea, Botrytis Group) The flowers of broccoli are pretty and zesty sweet. I often cut a flowering sprig and keep it in water on the kitchen window ledge so it’s available when I want it for salads or to decorate a soup. This 2000-year-old vegetable probably came to the Andes with the Europeans. It is a popular crop in the Valley.  
Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) Carnations are believed to have been in vogue in Greece at the time of Christ, and although they grow well in the Valley’s well-drained soil, they are still considered somewhat exotic. Their culinary use is popular in haute and nouvelle cuisine where their peppery taste jazzes up a salads or is used as a garnish. Carnations are also candied and used to decorate cakes.  
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) Competes with basil as my favorite fresh herb. All parts of the plant are edible and both the delicate white flowers and their predecessor seed heads (crunchy and delicious) add a special quality to any dish that calls for coriander. Flowers can dress up a coconut milk curry soup and the seeds and leaves and fern-like growth that doesn’t usually make it to the markets are a wonderful bonus. Here in the Sacred Valley my bed of cilantro planted two months ago is almost two feet tall and in full floral bloom. It is a common fresh market commodity, although its origins are believed to be in Israel and it is used extensively in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine.  
Dahlia (Dahlia) I didn’t realize my chakra hosted dahlias until the rains brought this South American native flower into luscious bloom in early December. The bush pictured is now about two meters high and festooned with blooms. Both decorative petals and tubers are edible. Am working on describing the taste. All edible petals should be picked early in the blooming cycle.  
Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.) The Quechuas have a use for every plant and once I realized their medicinal and culinary properties (young dandelions petals are lovely in a rice dish) I stopped worrying about pulling this 30-million year-old weed (!) from of the lawn.  
Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) NB: Need botanical confirmation that this is in fact an edible Daylily. Help welcome! Gracias.

I have two large clusters of this prolific lily in the chakra, but as most lilies (including the Peruvian Lily, often mistaken for freesia, which my garden also grows in colorful clumps) are toxic, I have not attempted to include it in our diet. Please post if you know! The Daylily originated in Eurasia and is commonly used in a variety of Chinese cuisine.

 Is this an edible Daylily?
English daisy (Bellis perennis) This native European wildflower also grows wild in the Andes. I find the petals a bit bitter, as opposed to ‘tangy’ but they look fabulous in a salad or as a garnish. (This may be due to late picking. Am continuing to experiment.)  
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) Although it is indigenous to the Mediterranean coast, fennel it is common in Quechua medicinal lore, which traditionally mix herbs into a maté (hot tea) or blend into an elixir. Locals use the ferny leaves as a breath freshener. The flower can be added to any dish that requires a licorice accent. Personally, I wish these were their lookalike, dill, as I’m not a fan of anise-tasting anything (including ouzo and sambuca).  
Fuchsia (many varieties including magellanica, boliviana, and the miniature Encliandra) The photo depicts one of many exquisite fuchsias in my garden, which have become my primary obsession. They resemble orchids and there are over 110 varieties, many of which originated in South America. As this site expands, I will include a section on fuchsias, which are as delicious as they are gorgeous. Tangy and crisp, they can be used for dips, in salads, or a single bloom can turn a simple plate into the epitome of elegance. They are hardy and grow easily in this altitude and climate. Once they are established they bloom prolifically throughout the year, provided they have enough water, a daily regimen of deadheading, and a mix of sun and shade.  
Gladiolus (Gladiolus communis) I thought they would never bloom, but with the coming of the rains they have adequate water and continue to surprise. Although they are native to South Africa, they are a popular crop here in the Andes and are sold in the fresh markets as decorative cut flowers both for the table and the cemetery. The blooms are mild tasting, somewhat reminiscent of lettuce, but with a fabulous texture. When the antlers are removed (as one must do with all flowers when prepping to eat them) they are yummy when stuffed with a cream cheese with herbs and onions. There may be subtle differences in taste depending on the color.  
Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) This hardy attractive bush is well-known in tropical climates, but flourishes here in the Andes as well. Generally known as an ornamental, the petals are also used in mates. They are more palatable cooked or boiled, as they taste slightly acidic when eaten raw. I am currently growing three hibiscus trees, including a peach colored double and a recently planted yellow double. At least some of the varieties found locally probably originate here.  
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) In the high Andes, these towering spires literally grow like weeds and grace the garden with bursts of color. The petals, butternut lettuce-like in taste and texture, make a cheerful addition to salads (must be picked shortly after blooming). At the moment my garden features only the dark crimson, and I’m curious whether the other colors available in the Valley (white and pink) will taste different. The Peruvian cultivar of this ancient plant likely originates in Europe.  
Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum)Like the hibiscus, the jasmine blossom is better known for use in teas but also makes a pretty garnish and smells like heaven when it’s budding. The Valley variety is, logically, the one that proliferates in southern Europe but originated in what is now Iran.  Jasmine – first blooms
Leek (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum) I love these flowers and they are a fabulous addition to any salad or to top a soup. They grow abundantly in the Valley, but the local farmers take the stalks and bulbs to market and use the heads for seed. This distinctive vegetable dates back to ancient Egypt.  
Geranium (Pelargonium – many varieties) These prolific plants bloom generously year-round and seem to enjoy the Andean climate immensely. They originate in southern Africa, but many varieties are available in the Valley and are uncannily easy to root –just stick a broken branch in the soil in the shade and it will begin blooming in a couple of weeks. I have not ventured into the culinary attributes of the blossoms as I need a botanist to confirm that mine are of the edible variety. I have several cultivars flourishing and I’m hoping at least two or three will prove to be edible.
 
Mint/Yerba Buena (Mentha spp.) This invasive species needs constant culling in the chakra as it chokes out less aggressive plants, and is a favorite in all Peruvian kitchens. I’m not a fan of mint in general, except as a garnish, although I am curious as to how the flowers taste, if they ever bloom. Apparently the term ‘yerba buena’ (good herb) is used in Latin America to mean whatever variety of local mint is common. There are two types in the chakra and neither is the yerba buenathat is the spitting image of basil, found in the fresh markets. pic to come! not in bloom.
Peach (Prunus persica) Like apple blossoms and other fruit, these are more often used in sweet dishes, although they can as easily adorn a glass of juice to add a little charm and class. Our yellow peaches are finished for the season, and they were huge and sweet. White peaches are now competing with the birds to reach maturity.  
Oregano (Origanum spp.) The little piece of land they refer to as a chakra (Quechua) behind our house has literally dozens of oregano plants that seem to produce all year round. More research is required as to the variety of this essential bushy herb that hails from Central Asia but grows so easily in the Sacred Valley. Leaves are small and round and so far it seems they flower only occasionally. blossoms to come!
Pansy (Viola wittrockiana) Originally from England (early 1800s), the pansy now has over 400 varieties, a few dozen of which are now common in Peru. They are wonderful in salads, with a mild sweet to mild tart taste. Petals are milder than the whole flower. Miniature varieties can be frozen in ice cubes and served in drinks.  
Plum/ ciruela (Prunus prunus) Pretty, sweet blossoms can be used as all fruit flowers – in drinks, to decorate cakes or pastries, or candied. The Andean variety was likely introduced by the Spanish, but this fruit dates back to 479 BC when Confucius wrote about its sweetness. Plums are second to apples as the most cultivated fruit in the world.  
Pumpkin (Cucurbita Cucurbita pepo) This creeping, climbing calabaza vine has emerged throughout the chakra since the rains began in late November. The vines grow nearly six inches every day. Blossoms can be stuffed with cheese and fried or baked. Delicious. The curcubita comes from North America. I do not know how long Peruvians have been cultivating this gourd, but they are fond of it.  
Rose (Rosa spp.) A rose by any other name would taste as sweet. Must be picked in early bud and the white thicker part that joins them needs to be removed before serving in salads. Uncertain as to the origins of the roses growing in the Andean highlands. Most rose species come from Asia, although there are some hailing from North America, Africa, and Europe, and I’m guessing those in the Valley come from Europe. I have both climbing and long-stemmed varieties in the chakra. The climbers have been infected with a fungus and there is no known organic way to heal them, save aggressive pruning. This event heralds the challenges that face the project as the growers will be tempted to treat diseases that affect their income.  
Rosemary (Rosmarinus ­officinalis) I know these are edible but they take a great deal of work to harvest as the flowers are miniscule. Native to the Mediterranean they grow extremely well in the Andes.  
Sage (Salvia officinalis) My other favorite Sacred Valley blossom. This purple variety is a hummingbird favorite and with appropriate pruning in spring it blooms year-round. The blossoms are sweet and beautiful on any plate. Also growing in the chakra are two hybrids – red and mauve, both of which flourish here and taste similar to the purple wonder. There are an estimated 500 species of salvia in Central and South America.  
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum) Several varieties of these eye pleasers are grown in Andean gardens, where they require little care, self-propagate, and bloom constantly. The blossoms are pretty and are reasonably bland in taste, making them good for salads or garnishes to side dishes.  
Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) Sweet. but if you pick them, you lose your berries. The strawberry was bred in France about 1740 using a cross between berry varieties from North America, Chile and Argentina. The fruit grows reasonably well elsewhere in Peru, but the Andean climate –especially the high altitude sun of summer combined with organic growing conditions– keeps the berries small.  
Zucchini, also known as courgette in Europe (Curcubita pepo) originates in Mesoamerica, an estimated 10,000+ years ago. The flower, like the pumpkin and other summer squash, is used to as a shell for stuffing dips, or roasted with cheese. You can also use the bright yellow flowers to top a salad or rice dish for some cheerful color. They literally grow wild here in the Sacred Valley. This one popped up in the corner of my garden (as did the prolific pumpkin vines) and I watched for months until realizing what it was. As with any flower, if you harvest the blossom you lose the fruit.  

Lofty Goals

As of Dec. 26. 2011, this is the vision, with the short term goals completed by the end of Q2 2012, and the Year 1 financial goals completed by the end of Q1 2013:

Short Term / Immediate

Establish formal relationships with

  • Reputable local NGO partner
  • International Development Agency and appropriate contractors
  • Peru’s Departments of Social Welfare, Tourism, and Agriculture
  • Municipal Mayors and or Community Associations throughout the Sacred Valley
  • 50 Women-owned (50% or more) organic viveras in the Sacred Valley by the end of Q3 2012, expanding to 200 by the end of Q1 2013

Establish informal relationships with:

  • Food critics in Peru and abroad
  • Chefs in fine dining establishments in Peru and abroad
  • Community Development program directors in Five-star hotels in Cuzco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Lima

Identify Project Team Experts (short or long term/intermittent assistance)

  •  Project manager/behavioral change/communication strategist (Penelope Poole)
  •   Botanist familiar with edible flowers in the Andes
  •  Farm-to-market specialist in fragile crops
  •  Irrigation specialist with Andean experience
  • Organic agricultural specialist and trainer (preferably with Andean experience)
  • Agro-economist
  • Gender expert familiar with regional issues

Targets

Short Term

Year 1

  • Create association of organic growers
  • 500,000 blossoms sold in the Sacred Valley, Cusco and Machu Picchu, grown by 500 organic viveras – increasing family income by $50-$100 per month, $600-$1200 a year.
  • High end book on Sacred Valley edible flowers with recipes and watercolor prints – 5000 copies first run. Proceeds to partner NGO.
  • Customized menus featuring Sacred Valley blossoms developed in 12 specialty restaurants
  • Independent film produced to chronicle the start of the project

Medium Term

Year 2

  • 3 million blossoms sold in the Sacred Valley, Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lima
  • Contest of chefs – national and international – for dishes featuring Sacred Valley edible flowers
  • Book of winning recipes from competition produced for sale in Cusco, MP, Lima and internationally (2000 copies first run)

Year 3

  • 10 million blossoms sold in Peru and abroad (New York, Chicago, Toronto) by 10,000 women growers in the Sacred Valley and mountain selva.
  • Rigorous studies completed on the health benefits of edible blossoms

Long Term

Year 4 and beyond

  • 30 million+ blossoms sold internationally in a sustainable business, creating income of $300 a month or more for women – especially those unable to work outside the home.
  • Edible flowers from the Sacred Valley are a popular and common element in restaurant meals mid-high end throughout North America.
  • Copycats in all developing countries, where women benefit and the countryside is beautified by introducing a new demand for edible blooms.
  • Hollywood script (feel good film) telling the early story

The Beginning

When my husband and I moved to a small town in the heart of what is known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, with mountain and glacier vistas of the Cordillera Urubamba, the purpose was to get out of the city (we’d been living in Lima) to offer a decent quality of life for our larger than apartment-sized Rhodesian Ridgeback pup, and to enjoy a quieter lifestyle ourselves in which we could write.

We rented a house on the edge of the town of Urubamba, which came complete with a mature micro chakra (garden with fruit, vegetables, herbs and a wide variety of flowers) and instant country walks along the irrigation canals within minutes of our doorstep. Instead of writing during the first several months here, I became increasingly enamored with the garden, spending copious hours in it daily, planting new herbs, vegetables, and flowers, and obsessing about keeping it watered – no small feat during the valley’s dry season from May through November.

Rosa Flores - her real name!

Almost every day, the chakra yielded new surprises for me –a lifetime city dweller for the most part, whose only “garden” consisted of copious indoor pots– and I became increasingly  interested in the huge variety of flowers available in the Andes, which grow with relative ease and many of which –such as fucshias and nasturtiums— brighten gardens across the planet, but originated in this part of the world. Not being a botanist, I began researching those already growing in my garden to learn their names and about their care. After buying more new varieties from my organic vivera, who is blessed with the delightfully appropriate name of Rosa Flores, I began musing about which varieties were edible. I’d spent a couple of weekends years ago at the Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island, where their kitchen garden is filled with edible blooms and most, if not all their five-star dishes feature blossoms at least as garnishes. That thought led to more research and I discovered to my utter delight that I was already growing more than 20 varieties of edible flowers in my 3,000-meter high garden, midway between Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

In the meantime, after two decades of work experience in the field of international development, I was able to observe from the ground some of the issues facing the Quechua people who dominate this part of Peru. In particular I became aware of the older Andean women, widows with aching bones from carrying countless babies on their backs from dawn to dusk. And now, their own children grown and often lured away by the lights of the cities, they still trudge sometimes 20 kilometers to the market days in town, carrying whatever meager crop is ready for harvest perched on tired shoulders, while their weary faces tucked beneath stovepipe hats make imposters of the cheerfully bobbing mantas. They hope to sell a kilo of carrots or handful of rocotos or sad strawberries before making the uphill  journey home at sunset.

I began devising a plan to market organic edible blossoms to the high-end hotels and restaurants in Cuzco, Machu Picchu, and the valley between that would benefit local women, many of whom subsist on incomes of 3 soles a day or less (a little more than $1). Read more about it in The Project.